Thursday, 27 August 2015

The kindness and goodness of strangers

It started as a day like any other.  My eldest, Sarah left home at 8.00 am to travel into Algiers with her brother.  He duly dropped her off at Tefora bus station in Algiers and continued on to his hospital appointment.  When he returned home alone just before 1.00 pm I was not overly worried.   Sarah had gone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rouisseau, a place infamous for being somewhere people disappeared for inordinately long periods of time.

When the doorbell went at around 1.30 pm I just assumed it was my youngest son’s friend…the one who is around at our house so often we’ve been tempted to put him in our Family Book. Instead it was one of Sarah’s students to tell us that someone had found her phone and had rung them to let them know, seeing as their number was the last one she rang.   ‘How kind’ I thought…of her student and of the person who had found her phone.  My son rang her phone and arranged to go and pick it up.  Meanwhile I had visions of Sarah frantically looking everywhere for her phone, retracing her steps all to no avail…..and with no way of telling her she was wasting her time.

2.30 pm came and went and I wasn’t really worried….she may have decided to give up and go get her paperwork anyway.   3.00 pm had arrived, and no sign of her and, at this time I was supposed to be at a friend’s house for coffee, so I texted her to let her know I would be late.  By 3.15 I was becoming annoyed….why couldn’t she pop into a taxi-phone and call us?  When we first moved to Algeria 12 years ago (yup…it’s been THAT long!) there was one on every corner where you could go in make a phone call in a small phone booth and then pay when you had finished.  Now, with a mobile pressed up to every ear I’m hard pressed to remember the last time I saw one. Of course there is also the fact that mobile phones have made us practically number illiterate with few of us knowing any phone numbers by heart.  But I knew she would remember our home phone number….she had to repeat it to Algerie Telecom enough times to have it burnt into her brain.   But…there are cyber-cafes EVERYWHERE…..She could send me or her sister a message on Facebook or email me.  By 3.30 pm I was almost convinced she had been kidnapped and sold into white slavery.  I say ‘almost’ because the only thing holding me back from the brink of insanity was the knowledge that she had lost it in Tafora, one of the busiest bus stations in Algiers, and the upside of Algerians being so interfering and nosy caring and curious is that there is no way anyone could be attacked in broad daylight in such a busy place without several people intervening.  And there was also the fact that no Algerian kidnapper worth his salt would leave a perfectly good iPhone behind
 At 3.40 pm she finally sauntered in the door and I didn’t know whether to hit her or hug her.  The day, of course, had been so very different from her perspective.  She had realised she was missing her phone within fifteen minutes of dropping it, but was almost convinced she had dropped it in the car….of course she couldn’t ring her brother to check.  So she retraced her steps back to the bus station and looked up and down the footpath where she had walked.  There was a cleaner nearby so she asked him if he had seen it, and he told her he hadn’t but…she could ring her number with his phone.  I’m amazed she knew her own number but she did ring and it rang out.  She thanked the cleaner and walked back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she spent the rest of the day.   If you know anything at all about this place you will know that in terms of awfulness it comes close to being sold into slavery.  It is notorious for its ineptitude and inefficiency , and, as a result it’s like a monster that swallows people whole and spits them out in pieces.  People enter these premises perfectly sane and calm and come out as total lunatics spitting fire.

When she finally was reunited with her phone she saw she had 24 missed calls between the first time she had used the cleaner’s phone up until lunch time…. The cleaner had taken it upon himself to try and make contact with whoever had picked up her phone (I don’t think there was much cleaning done as a result!).  But it seems that it was an older gentleman who had picked up the phone and not knowing how to answer it had left it ring, although not without opening some apps in his first few attempts to answer the darned thing.  When he arrived home he handed it to his son who contacted Sarah’s student (and also finally answered the cleaner’s call!).

So all’s well that ends well.  Sarah was reunited with her phone and I burnt a few calories pacing the floor with worry while also making it to my friend’s home for coffee where I had a lovely afternoon (adding on all the lost calories) with a few other friends.   And… of all……our faith in the innate goodness and kindness of strangers, in general, and Algerians in particular, was strengthened.  Alhamdulilah…there is always more good than bad in this world.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Ramadan 2015

Over the years I have come to really love Ramadan in Algeria.  I love the totally different atmosphere created by the fact that the vast majority of the population are fasting from just before dawn to dusk.  This year it started on 18th June just in time for the end of the main school national examinations, the Cinqueme,  the BEM and the Baccalaureate, and for the summer to really begin.  Women start stocking up on food weeks beforehand before the prices go up, and they also restock their kitchen cupboards with pots, pans, crockery and anything else necessary to ensure as easy a Ramadan as possible.   I was pleasantly surprised, this year,  that main foodstuffs did not noticeably go up in price Alhamdulilah.

As I go out and about for my shopping I’m so amazed at the good humour of most of the Algerians I have to deal with…..they almost all serve you with good humour and more often than not send you on your way with an ‘Allahinourak’ or Allahiyahafdhak’ ringing in your ears.  I love the way they ask children in the age range of 10 - 12 if they are fasting and if they reply in the affirmative they are always greeted with an ‘Allahibarek’ and praise, and sometimes even a small gift.  If they’re not fasting then that’s ok too..’they’re still young’ is usually the opinion of many.

The shops are full of foods that no self-respecting Algerian table would be without on this Blessed of all months – dried prunes and apricots to make ‘laham halou’ (sweet meat), frik (bulgar wheat) or vermicelli  and tomato puree to make ‘chorba’ (soup),  vol au vent cases, different type of cheeses, cold drinks, water etc . etc. and then the vegetable shops do a roaring trade on all kind of vegetables for the various ‘jeu-ess’ dishes (dishes with a lot of sauce/soup) and salads,  and there are always customers around the back of small lorries selling  huge water melons and cantaloupe and melons that melt in your mouth straight out of the fridge.   Then there are the small stalls that suddenly appear out of nowhere, cropping up here and there on streets outside people’s houses selling ‘mutalou’ (Algerian bread), ‘diol’ (the Algerian homemade samosa pastry) and bunches of parsley, coriander, mint and eggs.

One of the most wonderful things to happen in Ramadan is the closure of the coffee shops during the day – no longer do you have to walk out on the road to avoid walking through a coffee shop which has spread out across the pavement.  I never cease to be amazed at the number of men working out in the sun, fasting, from early morning until mid afternoon.  The workman who put the protective covering on our wall said he actually preferred to work during Ramadan, and he did work on our house all the way through the month last year.  His brother was working with him for a little while until, one morning,  my husband returned to the house with the workman and found him stretched out sound asleep on the ground with his head on the doorstep!  His wife had given birth to their first child the night before….no surprise that we didn’t see him again for the rest of Ramadan!

My husband went to England at the request of the Muslim community to which we belonged when we lived there.  They invited him to be their Imam, leading the Taraweeh prayers in the evenings, giving the Friday khutba and generally leading them in the prayers throughout the month of Ramadan.  So it was just the 5 children and me on our own for the month and so many sisters said to me that it must be a lot easier without him, not having to cook all the special Algerian foods.  To be honest, neither here in Algeria nor when we lived in England has my husband ever insisted on Algerian dishes, and neither did I feel less restricted with him gone.  I missed him….for himself…but I managed fine without him Alhamdulilah due to the fact that my kids are grown and know their way around all the convoluted systems of paperwork here.

We had a few sisters for iftaar and there wasn’t a bowl of chorba or bourek in sight!  It was lovely to sit and sip coffee and cake in the courtyard outside under the star studded sky with the Qur’an recitation wafting across the air from the nearby mosque.  We also went to my mother-in-law’s  and another good friend’s house another night which broke the routine nicely Alhamdulilah.  But we had our own lovely routine throughout Ramadan – breaking the fast at 8.20pm and starting to fast again at 3.30am left little room for anything more than eating, praying, reading Qur’an, relaxing and breakfast.  We all found it easier to stay up than to go to bed and wake up a little while later, as this made it easier to eat and to pray Fajir properly.  So this meant that we often slept until Dhuhr time.  The girls and I split up the cooking between us so that none of us spent a long time in the kitchen each day, and whereas I preferred to get all my preparations and cooking done between Dhuhr and Asr they preferred to do it afterwards.  Having all day to cook one meal and some side dishes meant that the day was free to do other things, and I felt a new sense of freedom and serenity Alhamdulilah.  Jumuah (Friday) is usually a very busy day for me, and suddenly it was as relaxing as all the other days.

One of the girls washed up after iftar while the rest of us relaxed a little, and then the boys went out to the mosque for Isha and Taraweeh prayers.  The girls and I preferred to stay at home and pray on our own giving us a chance to revise our Qur’an and, for me, to understand what I was saying and so help with my khushoo (concentration).  The boys often bought ice-cream on the way home from the mosque and then we sat down with snacks and left over food to watch the Omar Ibn Khattab  series from MBC.  It is in Arabic with English subtitles and I absolutely love it – it brings up so many interesting subjects to discuss, and it helped to boost my Iman  no end Alhamdulilah.  I have written  my own thoughts on the series in more depth which I will post soon inshallah.  Then we all went off to do our own thing, coming together for suhoor.

In the last week or 10 days I baked various goodies and put them in the freezer for Eid day….doing a little every day meant that I didn’t spend too much time on them,  especially during the last 10 most precious nights…the Best of All nights.

The days flew by so quickly and before we knew it the month was up andI was sad to see it end.  As my kids are older now I have more opportunity to read the Qur’an, say dua, pray Taraweeh and night prayers, and the peace it all brings is something unfathomable mashAllah.  Of course I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have done, and the peace I experienced was just a ‘taster’,  but I pray that Allah will help me to continue at least one good habit beyond Ramadan inshallah.

As usual we went to my inlaws for Eid day and I must admit that Eid has become more entertaining in recent years as my husband’s nieces, their children and his sister-in-law come from England so now I have someone to talk to in English, and don’t feel so much like a heap of clothes plonked in the corner.  Of course that is my own fault…’s certainly not theirs that I STILL cannot speak their language. When we first came to live in Algeria, Ramadan was a quiet affair at my inlaws, but as my husband’s nieces and nephews have all married, it has become a busy and social occasion once more with my husband’s mother and sister right as the central pivot of it all.  For me it is wonderful to have dinner served up to me and not have to lift a finger to help (I have tried in the past and there are so many other willing hands among the younger generation who enjoy the chatting over the dishes, that I don’t even pretend to argue any more).  We left in the early afternoon and came home to a lovely quiet house, a rest, a DVD and some edible goodies.  The next day we were planning to go to the sea but….we were all so exhausted that we just rested for the day instead.  And then the next day….we were all fasting again……

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

C'est la vie.....

A scene from our road one morning (excuse the awful picture....but I was trying to take it without if I was taking it!)
It’s been a while…quite a while actually but then I’ve been really busy…..trying to keep my cool in more ways than one, and stop myself from perspiring and hyperventilating  off the surface of the earth.  Ramadan has come and gone and I started a whole other post on that but life does not stop just because you’re fasting and trying to up the anti in your relationship with your Creator.  No sireeeeee…….Algeria just threw a few curb balls just to make life a little more interesting….and a whole lot more frustrating.

Losing the internet in the summer has now become an annual event.  Probably because the infrastructure just cannot cope with the increase in demand once all the kids stop school, not to mention all the emigrants home on holiday.  So when we lost our phone and internet connection I wasn’t really that surprised, but still we duly paid our Algerie Telecom office a visit to report the fault and waited an hour and half to do so.  A week later, and another one and a half hours waiting just to tell them to cut off the internet until they fixed whatever was wrong with our phone, we discovered, just in passing mind you, that we had an unpaid bill.  It appears that the postman couldn’t be bothered to deliver our telephone bill weeks earlier and we probably had been cut off, hence the first problem…and then a cable problem after that.  But do you think they could tell us this the first time???   Finally Alhamdulilah we got internet and phone, and, although the internet is not brilliant we do have some semblance of connection to the outside world….and then I go on FB….. and wonder why I bother!  Mind you…..FB is not my primary reason for having the internet.

I also had to go back for the umpteenth stamp on my temporary residency – I applied 2 years ago for a 10 year one, and I have been going back every 3 months since only for them to grant me a further 3 months extension. This time they wanted some of the paperwork renewed as it had gone out of date (because they had taken so long to process the darned thing)….along with a photocopy of my passport and, if I had them,  a couple of more photos so they could make a new temporary residency paper as my one looks like it’s been through the two world wars.  In Algeria you need to have a bag like Mary Poppins, except instead of it producing a lampshade etc. it needs to provide every piece of paper ever generated by your presence on this earth, stamped in triplicate in the ‘Baladia’ and hundreds of photos, with an electricity bill thrown in for good measure. After Ramadan I learnt, from a friend who had also gone through all the same hoops as me in her application for her 10 year residency, that she received a mere two year one and, when she queried it was sent from pillar to post until she was finally told that they have now stopped issuing the 10 year residency.  BUT if you can show that you applied before January of this year you are entitled to receive it.  So, if this is relevant to you, and you, too, receive a 2 year blue card when you were expecting the 10 year one, DO NOT give them that creased and crumpled piece of paper you’ve been carrying back and forth to the police station every three months, known here as the 'récépissé' as that is the only proof you have of your entitlement.
Are you sure you couldn't find one any bigger????
And then there were the passport forms I had ordered from the Irish Embassy in Berne – this is the Embassy responsible for any Irish citizens living in Algeria.  Don’t ask me why it has to be this particular one….except….much and all as I hate to admit it…..I think there’s some cosmic link between Algeria and Ireland….in terms of logic anyway.  I had ordered them to come before my husband abandoned me left to go to England for Ramadan so that he could get them all authorised and then post them from there.  Same postman hadn’t bothered to deliver them either, although he did look a bit (only a smidgeon mind you) shamefaced when we asked him about it – it seems the post office itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the mail…we had to hang around and speak to the postman himself, who could be found lounging around holding up the… -box.  He said he vaguely remembered something coming from abroad and went into the back of the post office and returned with….my envelope from Berne…..and our Algerie Telecom bill.

And THEN….yes there’s more….. the secondary school which my youngest son attends decided this year, in it’s not so infinite wisdom to  request that all students be enrolled for the next year… the middle of July.  So off we went to do some more paper hunting only to discover that the birth certificate he needs is no longer issued by the local ‘baladia’ and that we would need to go to the Ministry of foreign affairs in the middle of  Algiers, as he had the audacity to be born abroad. And to add insult to injury the ‘baladia’  wouldn’t accept my signature on the necessary form – they wanted to know was there someone who had a power of attorney for him!!!!!!  It seems I’m ONLY his mother and just won’t do.  By this time I was practically hissing like a viper and coiled to strike anyone else who came in my way, but the school head master very amicably agreed to enrol my son while making a note that some of his paperwork was missing.

All of this in the 30+ degree heat and fasting.  But I have to say….and yes I do have to because credit where credit is due….most of the people we dealt with….in the police station, Algerie Telecom, the school were all very kind and nice Alhamdulilah.  Of course they would have been even nicer and kinder if they  had given me what I needed in the first place, but if Algeria teaches you anything it will teach you patience and the fact that…you just can’t get everything you want in life, just when you want it.  Needless to say you do have to stay sane long enough to learn these lessons.  And Alhamdulilah for my children who had to be the ones who did all the queueing and running around while I, most of the time, sat in the car and perspired.  Of course, always looking on the bright side of life…it could have been worse….I could have expired.

I do love living beside the sea!